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Talking Finances with Your Valentine

By Carla Hindman, Director of Financial Education, Visa Canada

As you and your spouse celebrate Valentine's Day over a candle-lit dinner, you may want to avoid romance-killing conversations that begin with, "Honey, let's talk about our financial future." That being said, you really should have that conversation sooner rather than later to help keep your relationship on a healthy footing.

Major life changes may require you to reassess how you manage the family finances. Unfortunately, many couples don't make time to plan ahead and are later caught off guard around issues like having children, aging parents, planning for emergencies and changing career and retirement goals.

If you haven't had a financial heart-to-heart lately and aren't sure what to do next, here are a few suggestions:

Make a financial "date." Even if you're in complete agreement on money matters, the family "accountant" should keep his or her spouse in the loop – if nothing else, so they can easily take over in an emergency. Set up regular meetings to discuss bill payments, progress or setbacks regarding savings goals, budgeting for upcoming expenses, and strategies for coping with unforeseen expenses.

Don't postpone uncomfortable discussions. Should one of you accidentally bounce a cheque or miss a payment, don't wait until your next conversation to address it or try to hide the problem. You'll only make matters worse and create an atmosphere of mistrust. Address the problem and deal with the issue right away – you might even save yourself additional late fees or penalties.

Be united. When the news isn't good, communication is all the more important. Whether you need to temporarily tighten the budget or make a major life-altering decision like postponing retirement, talk it through and be prepared to compromise.

Reaffirm your goals. Couples often start out with one game plan but then life deals an unexpected hand and goals change. Touch base periodically on how you both feel about such major issues as family size, home ownership, career changes, financing post-secondary education for your kids (or yourselves), financial risk appetite, when and where you'll retire, and taking care of elderly parents.

Update legal documents. Make sure your legal and financial documents are up to date and reflect your current wishes, including wills, financial and medical powers of attorney, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment funds and any other accounts where beneficiaries or people who control your health or finances are named.

Stick to your budget. Some of the worst marital disagreements occur when one or both parties sabotage the family budget. If you don't already have a budget, many free tools are available on Practical Money Skills Canada ( a free personal financial management site sponsored by Visa Canada. It features a guide to handling your debt and tips on creating a budget you can live with, along with interactive budgeting tools.

Seek help. If you discover that you've gotten off track or need help realigning your financial goals, consider hiring a financial advisor for assistance or seek advice from family, friends or a representative from your financial institution.

There's nothing romantic about discussing family finances, but regular discussions with your partner can ensure that you are financially on the right track.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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